Thursday, September 29, 2016

AL East Champs Again

As the top of the ninth ended at Yankee Stadium last night, the Blue Jays had lost to the Baltimore Orioles in Toronto, 3-2, so that made the Red Sox the AL East champions for the second time in four years.

Hyun Soo Kim hit a pinch-hit two-run homer in the top of the ninth at Toronto to give the Birds a much-needed win for them. And what happened in the next few minutes in New York, the Sox owe Kim a debt of thanks.

Craig Kimbrel came on for the save with a 3-0 lead and had nothing. Gave up a hit, three walks and was gone. Kimbrel has been very good since returning from knee surgery on August 1st and it was his first bad outing since.

Joe Kelly came on and got two quick outs, but gave up a grand slam to Mark Teixeira and it was over. New York was celebrating like they had just won the division, but they'll be playing golf shortly.

The Sox players entered the locker room depressed after losing a game like this, but manager John Farrell set the troops straight with a short talk how they had just won the division after such a long grind and how one inning should take nothing away from that. He was absolutely right, and from the there the party started.

Farrell became the first Red Sox manager to win two division titles since Walpole Joe Morgan won in 1988 and 1990.

Winning a playoff spot on a night you've lost is nothing new in baseball. I can't ever recall a team celebrating after a team beat them in the ninth on a grand slam. But Farrell is absolutely correct. The Sox went through a lot in 2016, and pulled away this month with the amazing 11-game winning streak. They deserved to celebrate last night.

I went on social media after the game and could not believe how many Red Sox fans were depressed over the loss, some even writing about how Kimbrel should be run out of town over this loss. Hey people, last night's loss will be quickly forgotten. Can you tell me who the Sox beat and what were the scores of the playoff clinchers of 2004, 2007 or 2013? Me neither.

The important thing is that the Sox have had a fabulous September, going 18-7, one of the best September's in their history. There is so much to love about this team, and to a man they want to win it all for the retiring David Ortiz.

Forget last night's loss. It's ancient history. Now it's time to fully look forward to next week's playoffs, which begin on Tuesday with the Wild Card games. Who the Sox will play in the ALDS is still to be determined. And there's still plenty to play for this week, as the AL seedings are still up in the air (Sox trail AL leader Texas by two games).

Enjoy the AL East title, folks. But still much work to be done.

And thanks, Hyun Soo Kim.

Monday, September 26, 2016

11 Straight, and History Made

Back on September 15th, Hanley Ramirez blasted a three-run shot that gave the Red Sox a stunning 7-5 win over the Yankees, and ended a small two-game slide, and it sent New York reeling. But it started something really special for the Red Sox, and Hanley's blast may go down in Red Sox lore if it leads to bigger and better things.

As I write this, the Sox have not lost since, winning 11 straight. They have not blugeoning teams during this run, as they have scored as many as seven runs twice (in their first two wins). They became the first team in MLB history to score exactly five runs in five consecutive victories.

Four of the eleven wins have been won by one run, something that was a big problem for the Red Sox earlier in the 2016 season. The starting pitching has been very good, but the bullpen has been close to lights-out. The return of Koji Uehara and Joe Kelly has boosted the pen tremendously, and Craig Kimbrel has been nearly unhittable since he returned from knee surgery in early August. The Sox have held the opposition to two runs or less in five of the games during the streak.

The pitching has made the difference, and it was on display yesterday in St. Pete against the Rays. Eduardo Rodriguez had one of the finest outings of his young career, striking out 13 in just 5 1/3 innings. (That means just three of the Tampa Bay outs were NOT Ks.) But he threw 113 pitches, and John Farrell went to his pen for Heath Hembree, and he was spectacular, striking out all five hitters he faced.

When Hembree fanned his last hitter, the Sox had combined to strike out 11 straight hitters, a new MLB record, breaking Tom Seaver's record of 10 straight he set against the Padres in 1970. But the pitchers were far from through. Joe Kelly struck out two batters in the ninth, and the Sox had fanned 21 Tampa Bay Rays though nine innings, the first time in history that had happened. But since the game was tied at 2, the record won't count, as the game went to the 10th inning.

Dustin Pedroia scored in the top of the 10th on David Ortiz' double (in one of the craziest home plate slides you will ever see), and Kelly came back out for the 10th. He allowed two hits, but struck out two batters as well, and after Brad Miller lined to left, the Sox had their 11th straight win, and set an MLB record for most strikeouts in a 10-inning game, with 23.

The Sox are peaking at the right time, and now have a Magic Number of 2 to win the division (they have already wrapped up a postseason berth). It is also interesting to note that the Yankees, who have been eliminated from the AL East race, have an elimination number from the Wild Card race of 2. It is possible that the Sox could win the AL East and eliminate the Yankees from the postseason on the same night, possibly as early as Tuesday.

Boy, how sweet would that be?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Boston Massacre 2016

Last Thursday, the New York Yankees came into Fenway Park four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East race. And naturally, more than one pundit had to bring up that four game disaster of 1978, when New York came into Fenway and took four straight from the Sox and left tied in the division.

That, of course, is ancient history. Hanley Ramirez made sure there would be no repeat of that.

Hanley was a one-man Yankee Wrecking Machine, as he hit four home runs and drove in nine runs, as the Sox all but ended New York's chances of winning the division.

His first blast was the soul crusher, as the Yankees were one out away from winning the first game on Thursday, and had a four-run lead as late as the 8th inning. A win would have put them three games back, but Hanley's three-run blast in the center field bleachers gave the Sox an amazing 7-5 win.

Home run number two was on Friday, another bleacher shot to center field that put the Sox up 3-0 on Friday, and they coasted to a 7-4 win.

Ramirez hit the last two on Sunday night. The first brought the Sox back from 4-0, another three-run blast off the light tower in left. At that moment, I knew the Sox were on their way to a series sweep. After the game was tied, Hanley became the difference in the game in the bottom of the seventh, a bomb onto Lansdowne Street to make it the eventual final at 5-4.

The Sox had lost two of three to Baltimore coming into the series, and I was hoping they could take three. They won the four games despite having two of their starters not get past the fourth inning (Eduardo Rodriguez on Thursday and Drew Pomeranz on Sunday). The bullpen picked them up on both nights (who would have thought it now appears to be a strength), and the offense bailed both pitchers out as well.

The Red Sox are showing that no quit attitude in September with three come-from-behind wins against their archrivals. They wre down in three of the four games by three or more runs and came back to win. They now have a three game lead over second place Baltimore, and a four game lead over Toronto. The Magic Number to win the AL East is now 11.

For New York, it was a devastating weekend. It was series they could have won all four games, but blew three late leads to allow the Red Sox to take charge and win. They are four games behind Toronto for the final Wild Card spot, with three teams (Detroit, Seattle and Houston) in front of them. Dosn't look good for the Yankees. Their elimination number is 10.

It was a sensational weekend for the Red Sox, and now they head to Baltimore for four games. This four-game series win over New York may not be an historic one (I still like the sound of "Boston Massacre 2016" nevertheless), but quite satisfying nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Sox In San Diego

I had the pleasure last week of visiting the incredibly beautiful city of San Diego, and it's the third time I've been there.

Of course, I had a great reason for going there, as the Red Sox were playing a three-game series against the Padres. I have two dear friends who live in the city, Peggy and Ken Gartin. As soon as the 2016 schedule was set in stone, Peggy contacted me and said that the Sox would be playing in her hometown, so come on out!

I have been in San Diego twice before, in 2004 (when Peggy and Ken got married) and in 2007, the last time the Red Sox were in town. I think we know how both of those seasons concluded, don't we?

Anyway, Peggy and Ken were wonderful hosts, and they showed me around San Diego, which included a tour of beautiful Balboa Park. We also drove up to Los Angeles to catch the Padres play the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. It was my first time in LA, and I have to admit the park is very nice. (And the stereotype of the typical Dodger is true: they arrive late and leave early. I saw it for myself.)

Back in San Diego, we saw the Tony Gwynn Museum, which contains all sorts of Tony's accolades from his brilliant career, such as his bats, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, and many other incredible trophies and memorabilia he accumulated. (Unfortunately, there was no photography permitted, as asked for by the Gwynn family.) He is truly a revered figure in San Diego, at almost godlike status. (The above picture is the statue of him at Petco Park, which is stunning to see up close.)

Petco Park is truly a jewel of a ballpark. Everyone is very nice who works there, and the park is almost immaculate. Ken and I arrived for batting practice all three days, and I met many of his friends who came out for the series. It's been another tough year for the Padres, now on their sixth straight losing season. I felt badly for the good folks I met, as they support their team passionately. The Friars are still looking for that elusive first championship, and it brings back memories of those years supporting the Red Sox during their mediocre-to-lousy years, just hoping to see one in my lifetime. (I have also adopted the Padres as "my favorite team west of the Mississippi.")

The Padres won the first game of the series, 2-1, as Edwin Jackson outpitched Drew Pomeranz. Ken and I walked back to his house after the game, and we saw some homeless guys on the street. One guy looked at me and saw I was a bit down and said, "Don't worry, they (The Red Sox) will will the next two games." I had to smile at that, and as it turned out, maybe that fella knew something I didn't at the time.

The Sox did indeed win the next two, both handily by scores of 5-1 and 7-2. The Sox supporters came to San Diego like it was an invasion, and the park had at least 60% Sox fans all three days. There was a sense of good sportsmanship through the crowd, and certainly no fights of any kind.

If I were to ever live in California, I would pick San Diego in a heartbeat. Great climate and wonderful people. And I do hope the good fans there will one day experience a World Series championship.

I know Tony Gwynn would be smiling, wherever he is right now.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Joyce and Alice

It's that time of year again.

Sunday will mark 15 years since the World Trade Center was attacked by radical Islamic terrorists, and we lost nearly 3000 beautiful souls here, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania. I will be at the World Trade Center remembrance for the 15th straight year on Sunday to remember all the victims.

And those of you who know me, I honor my dear friend Joyce Carpeneto every year on this blog. We worked together at Tower Records in Greenwich Village for over four years, and we also worked together at the company's distribution arm called TRIP (Tower Records Import Product).

Joyce worked for General Telecom as a sales rep after leaving Tower in 1998, and her company transferred her into a new office in the North Tower, on the 83rd floor. She had the terrible misfortune to be at the work that awful morning, and she and her 12 colleagues all perished. Nothing was ever found of any of the thirteen.

Shortly after I found out that Joyce was missing, I had a memory of her that came flooding into my mind. And it was one of the happier memories I have of her.

Right after I started working with her at TRIP, we were together in the Greenwich Village office we had. I was doing some checking of the inventory work I had done when she walked over to me and said, "Do you want to see some pictures of me with Alice Cooper?" He had recently done in an in-store appearsnce at the Tower Village store to support his latest album. "Absolutely," I said.

She handed me a couple of pictures of her with a few other Tower employees posing with the legendary rock icon. He had his arm around her and it was a great picture. But I will remember forever when I looked up at Joyce after I saw the pictures. (I really wish I had the pictures to share with you, but I don't have them.)

She had a smile from ear-to-ear, like this was one of the most special moments of her life. Even now, I can close my eyes and still see that beautiful smile she had. It always brings me a feeling of great comfort.

In 2005, I did a special recording for StoryCorps, which records remembrances of all kinds. And this was one for the 9/11 victims. I am very proud to say that my remembrance of Joyce is in the Library of Congress, and I also dedicated it to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. When the museum opened in 2014, they used three snippets I recorded for her interactive profile, which also includes many lovely pictures. The Museum picked my telling "The Alice Cooper Story" for its main snippet for Joyce's profile.

I have done many, many things in my life I am very proud of, but nothing tops this.

And I hope one day I can meet the great Alice Cooper and tell him this story.

This is the 11th year I have remembered my dear friend here on my blog. If you'd like to check out any of the previous years remembrances, please click any of the links below.

2006: Forever Missed. And Forever Loved.
2007: Never Forget. Ever.
2008: We Can Be The Ones Who Remember
2009: The Most Sacred Of All Days
2010: 3000
2011: Ten Years After
2012: 11 Years
2013: No Other Place In The World I Could Be Today
2014: Always And Forever Family
2015: I'm The Lucky One 

Please say a prayer for all the 9/11 victims today, all the first responders (especially the ill ones) and all those left behind with broken hearts.

I will love you forever, Joyce.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Yoan Moncada Era Begins

The Red Sox closed out the month of August at 17-13, and find themselves in second place as September begins.

They split the last six games at home against Kansas City and Tampa Bay, and got really lucky yesterday, as the offense bailed out yet another loopy bullpen decision by John Farrell. (PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not use Junichi Tazawa in any high-leverage situation again. I'd rather see the ball boy coming in to pitch.)

The Sox are two games in behind AL East leaders Toronto, and lead the first Wild Card position by two games over Baltimore.

There's so much to like with this team, and we will now get to see young stud infielder Yoan Moncada, as he was recalled from AA Portland today, to play third base, which has turned into a black hole. Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill are struggling, so Moncada will get a chance to see if he can light a spark at the position. He'll join the club in Oakland on Friday night.

The starting pitchers had an overall solid month of August. Rick Porcello now has 18 wins, and is 13-0 at Fenway this season. The last Sox hurler to do that was Boo Ferriss in 1946. Porcello has turned into a reliable stopper of losing streaks. David Price continues to pitch strong, as he's won his last four decisions and he now stands at 13-8 with an ERA finally under 4.00 (3.97). Drew Pomeranz continues to impress. His last two starts against Tampa Bay were excellent, except for throwing a hanging curve to their backup catcher Luke Maile last Tuesday. He has a no-decision and a loss to show for it unfortunately, but he's become more reliable as he's gone on. Steven Wright has been a concern since returning from the DL. Yesterday he allowed four runs and four innings, and his knuckler was too flat too often. You have to wonder if he's hit a wall after his early season success (think Tim Wakefield in 1995).

The bullpen may still be this team's downfall. The only truly consistent pitcher in August was Craig Kimbrel, who has been terrific since coming off the DL early in August. (And manager Farrell, please let get a four-out save in important games.) Matt Barnes is wildly erratic, getting lit up last Sunday without getting an out. Brad Ziegler should be the eighth inning guy, no matter what. He's the Sox' most reliable bridge to Kimbrel.

The offense has its share of strugglers, with Jackie Bradley and Travis Shaw at the top of the list. Bradley went deep yesterday, but Shaw struck out four times on Wednesday, and found himself on the bench yesterday. Here's where the call up of Moncada is important. When the Sox brought up Andrew Benintendi in August, he immediately brought a spark to the bottom of the lineup. All eyes will be on Moncada, but the 21-year-old from Cuba has a rep for handling tough situations he's been in. It's the perfect time to bring him up.

I'll get a chance to see him play live, as I'll be in San Diego next week for the three-game series the Sox are playing with the Padres starting on Labor Day. I'll have a post about it after I return to New York on September 8th.

The Sox now embark on another long trip, three cities in nine days: Oakland, San Diego, and really big series in Toronto. The Sox return to Fenway on September 12th against Baltimore. Five wins away from the Fens should be a must right now.